A protester holds a sign at the Kootenay Bay ferry terminal during a rally last week that saw service users urge an end to the labour dispute. Photo submitted

Kootenay Lake ferry labour dispute goes public

Western Pacific Marine criticized the union in a statement

The company in charge of running Kootenay Lake ferry has taken a shot across the bow at the union in the middle of labour action.

Western Pacific Marine said in a statement Saturday the BC Government Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) is asking for a pay package “that would make ferry service on Kootenay Lake more costly than the company could sustain.”

The Kootenay Lake ferry, which runs two vessels between the Balfour and Kootenay Bay terminals, has had intermittent service interruptions since late August. The union has said the 80 members of Local 2009 on the ferry route will not work overtime hours during contract talks.

In its statement, Western Pacific Marine said it has offered wage increases of two per cent annually over the next three years, which is in line with a three-year agreement the union signed with the province in April.

“Rather than accept those terms, this local union bargaining unit is asking for salary increases that far exceed that of other current BCGEU agreements and industry standards for these marine positions.”

BCGEU president Stephanie Smith, in an email to the Star, admonished Western Pacific for “bargaining through the media.”

“By pointing out the service disruptions Kootenay Lake Ferry users are currently experiencing, WPM is highlighting the impact of their chronic under-resourcing of the service,” said Smith.

“There are not enough qualified staff to run the ferries so when our members refuse to sacrifice their mental and physical health by working excessive amounts of overtime, the ferries don’t run. That is exactly the point our members have been making throughout the bargaining process.”

Both sides also accused the other of refusing to continue negotiations.

Smith added the union is also currently in similar labour talks with WaterBridge Ferries and Waterbridge Equipment for ferry routes elsewhere in B.C.

“I’m hopeful that WPM will reconsider this attempt at bargaining in the media, follow the example set by WaterBridge Ferries and Waterbridge Equipment and get back to the table,” said Smith.

Related: Ferry workers could be on strike in West Kootenay before month’s end


tyler.harper@nelsonstar.comLike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter